We stand victorious after another battle, ammo, cash and bodies littering the ground. Yet we can’t deny that we feel a little sad. Before us lies a Loaded Widow Maker. With ten rounds per clip and a damage rating of 226, it’s definably better than our beloved Dastardly Revolver, a seven-shooter with a rating of 139. But, firing as fast as we can pull the trigger, that Dastardly Revolver has loyally dropped tens of bandits for us in showers of damage points. Can we really come to love the Widow Maker as much? We compare the reload time, fire rate and accuracy, and it’s slightly lower in all respects – enough to allow us to entertain the idea that we might spurn the new gun.
Decisions of the mind and heart are the crux of Borderlands, the FPS-cum-RPG that has possibly the greatest practical understanding of what makes a great shooter: guns. And by ‘guns’, we mean the interplay between a lot of different parameters, each of which both Gearbox and you explore in the ‘bazillions’ of guns in Borderlands 2. There are the basics – accuracy, fire rate, reload time, clip size, and damage output – but there’s a lot more besides. What’s the speed of bullet travel? Do you like the reticle, or does it aim into iron sights? What’s your peripheral vision like when aiming, and how’s the zoom? What’s its kickback like? How many rounds does it consume per shot? And that’s before considering the five types of elemental bonuses. You might also care what it looks and sounds like, from the boom and cast metal of the Jakobs range to the fizz and colourful sheen of Hyperion arms.
And you’ll need to think hard about guns, because Borderlands throws a lot of things at you to shoot. In the thick of combat, Borderlands is like Robotron: 2084 – it’s about juggling threats, and about movement and precise shooting, whether at long range or short. Borderlands is most certainly not about using static cover to make slow, inexorable progress across its stages. And, yes, it’s also like Diablo in terms of
progressing your character through skill trees and gathering sackfuls of shiny loot.
Much of this was in the original, of course. To say this sequel stays true to it would be an understatement, one underscored in an opening sequence with the four player characters riding a train –
as opposed to a bus. And while none of the main characters is the same, they closely resemble their forerunners. The turret-planting Commando is a new take on the Soldier. The Siren returns, but with Phasewalk replaced by Phaselock, a more offensive trick that lifts and holds an enemy in an energy bubble for a few seconds. The Gunzerker is an adaptation of the Berzerker, trading fists for dual-wielded guns. And the Assassin cherry picks talents from the original classes – his Deception ability, which sends out a decoy to distract enemies, is reminiscent of Phasewalking, but his skill trees specialise in sniping (like the Hunter), and melee (like the Berzerker).
It’s a well-rounded selection, but the classes are also less deterministic than they were before. They do less to steer your choice of weapon through skill bonuses for specific gun types, a decision that does much to expand your options and freedom. Each character also feels as at home taking on a crowd from a distance as up close, albeit at the risk of making them feel less defined. Indeed, until they’re maxed out, each of their three skill trees does little to develop deep differences in the way you play the classes. With the Siren, you’ll choose between broad sets of skills that focus on shield recharging and movement speed, health regeneration, or elemental damage dealing. But finding a powerful new shotgun is far more likely to cause you to change from a ranged strategy to close-quarters combat than any skill.
The effect is compounded by the sheer range of buffs and stat tweaks you can apply to your character to tune them. You can upgrade your backpack size and its bullet capacity by spending Eridium. Grenades and shields are governed by loot drops and purchases; shields vary from light but fast-recharging to heavy but slow to recover, and often come with elemental effects, such as setting melee attackers on fire or delivering elemental damage on being exhausted. Relics and class-specific mod slots provide even more flexibility, and you can also choose to buff even more stats – such as accuracy, elemental damage rate and many more – through fulfilling challenges. These achievement-like awards raise a ‘Badass Rank’ that applies to all your characters, not just the one who earned them, though you can switch it off for a more purist approach.
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